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Tsunami hits Tonga after volcanic eruption

January 16, 2022

A tsunami has flooded Tonga's capital after a large eruption from an undersea volcano. Other Pacific islands and the US have issued advisories and have cautioned residents to seek higher ground.

A satellite image taken by a Japanese weather satellite showing an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga
Tongans were urged to get to higher ground after a massive volcanic eruption triggered a tsunamiImage: Japan Meteorolog/AP/picture alliance

The Pacific island of Tonga experienced a large volcanic eruption Saturday followed by a tsunami that flooded parts of the capital, Nuku'alofa. 

The surge wave reached a height of 2.7 feet (83 centimeters) in Nuku'alofa, according to the US-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. There is no information yet on property damage or casualties.

Infografik Karte Tonga EN

Satellite images showed massive ash clouds and shockwaves spreading from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Haʻapai volcano.

People all over the South Pacific, including as far away as New Zealand, heard the eruption.

Videos posted on social media from Tonga showed the tsunami breach the shoreline, and move into the town.

Tonga's King Tupou VI had been evacuated from the Royal Palace as many Tongans tried to get to higher ground. 

Several countries issue tsunami warnings

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves measuring 2 feet in height were observed by sea-level gauges in Pago Pago, the capital of the US territory of American Samoa, around 940 kilometers (580 miles) from Tonga. 

Officials there initially issued a tsunami warning and told residents to "immediately" evacuate to higher ground. The warning was lifted shortly thereafter. 

 A tsunami advisory was in effect for Hawaii, Alaska, the US Pacific coast, and neighboring British Columbia in Canada.

Fiji also issued a tsunami warning, telling residents to avoid shorelines "due to strong currents and dangerous waves."

New Zealand, more than 2,000 kilometers away from the site of the eruption, has also issued a tsunami advisory. 

New Zealand's National Emergency Management Agency said parts of the country could expect "strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore."

New Zealand working to establish communications

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Sunday that images of the volcanic eruption near Tonga were "hugely concerning" and that communication with the island was difficult.

"Communication as a result of the eruption has been difficult," Ardern said in a Facebook post.

She added that New Zealand's defense force and foreign ministry were working to establish what was needed and how the country can help.

The prime minister will give an update on the situation at a press conference later in the day.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed deep concern in a statement.

" The UN offices in the Pacific are closely monitoring the situation and are on standby to provide support if requested," he said. 

Undersea volcano erupts

The eruption Saturday was the latest in a series from the undersea Hunga Tonga, Hunga Ha'apai volcano. Saturday's eruption is the second in only two days. 

A previous eruption on Friday sent plumes of ash and smoke into the air, with smoke clouds extending up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the atmosphere.

The volcano had some intermittent activity through December last year. On Friday, people were advised by officials to stay home and protect drinking water and resources.

rm, as/wmr, wd (AP, Reuters)